Al Ayam Interviews the President of BHRM

Dialogue is the Solution to Human Rights Setbacks

On 4 March 2011, the President of the BHRM Hasan Moosa Shafaei was interviewed by Al Ayam newspaper where he discussed the recent political and human rights developments in the country. Shafaei said that there was a setback in Bahrain in relation to human rights, and that dialogue, political and human rights changes are essentials. He also called for preserving what has been achieved during the last ten years.

How do you view the unfortunate incidents from a human rights perspective?

The incidents came as a shock to everyone, especially the large number of people who are killed and injured. Everything happened so quickly, there was no time for preparation and planning. The division of Bahraini society into two streets was also surprising. The Government’s poor performance was also shocking, as well as the increase in public demands, which revealed that the street was influenced by events in other Arab countries. There are many surprises, but the main issue is whether these surprises can be absorbed. My answer is that, not yet.

What happened? And why do you think the incidents took place?

The main reason is that there are shortcomings in the reform project itself, which has lost its momentum for some time. The Crown Prince said that the reform project was slow and had failed to reach all segments of society. The Executive Authority performance was below par, and had failed to implement the big decisions that were taken. Also, the performance of the Ministries was bad, especially regarding public services. Moreover, the reform project failed to keep up with the developments and the aspirations of the people. At first a giant leap was made, but then things slowed down. Some people were unenthusiastic about reform and that negatively affected the performance of the State apparatus.

The recent events were encouraged by regional climate and the political developments in both Egypt and Tunisia. It was possible to deal with the situation differently, if not for the floundering and the lack of preparation in Government performance. This caused one problem after another and ruined Bahrain’s reputation, which it worked hard to build during the last ten years.

It could be said that Bahrain was a victim of the static regional situation that discourages political reforms and respect for human rights. Bahrain was also under pressure from neighbouring countries, who did not want to be embarrassed when compared with a reformed Bahrain.

Was the opposition shocked at what took place on 14 February?

What took place was a big shock to both the opposition and the Government. The latter wondered that: “Is this our people?” And the opposition wondered that “Is this our Government?”. It was as if each party was re-discovering the other, and distrust between them went so far as to cloud their vision.

The opposition faces many challenges including losing public support. The opposition’s ability to control the street has weakened. In these circumstances the street becomes a monster, which scares both the opposition and the Government. The Government’s mistakes made the street uncontrollable and hence weakened the moderate advocates. The moderates felt marginalized by the Government and that their demands not met, such as combating corruption, fair distribution of wealth, improving public services and solving both the housing and unemployment problems.

What is the solution to this problem?

The dialogue between the Government and the opposition has not materialized yet, and it should be so regardless of the escalation. There is no alternative to dialogue, which will guarantee the birth of a new Bahrain. What we are witnessing can be described as signs of dialogue since each party tries to ensure that their demands are met before proceeding to dialogue. Delaying dialogue will increase the escalation in the street and will result in further sectarian divisions whereby both opposition and Government will lose. I believe that both parties are fully aware of this fact, and that concessions need to be made for the greater public good. Maybe both parties can agree on solutions that can be implemented according to a timeline.

I would like to stress that no one can impose their solution on the other party. Each party may try to show its power but not with the intention to confront but to draw a line between what is possible and what is impossible. Consequently, political concessions could be reached. Opposition leaders are beginning to feel that the instability will not benefit anyone. We hope that the time for compromise is near.

There is need for more mediators between the Government and the opposition, who are aware of the current circumstances, understand the fears and aspirations of all parties and have the competency to bridge gaps in order to reach a common ground.

There are talks about a barrier of mistrust between the various parties, what is your opinion on this?

An important part of the mistrust is because both parties don’t understand the language, idea and culture of each other. The Shia opposition in particular have this problem. They do not understand the language of Government because they never experimented diplomacy and its etiquette. They unintentionally hurt the Government and do not understand the political system or the men behind it. Some believe that the moderate Shia opposition are planning to attack the regime, want to impose their sect, and that their sectarian cause takes precedence over their national cause. Others oversimplify the culture and aspiration of ordinary Shai citizen. We need to re-discover each other and not live in isolation. This can only be achieved through integration and a developed political performance. We hope that our mutual interests will force every party to understand the other, away from stereotyping.

Do you think human right in Bahrain is going through a sharp decline?

Yes, the large number of casualties points to this fact. These breaches are unacceptable. Unfortunately Bahrain’s human rights reputation, which was built during the last decade, has sharply deteriorated. I believe that this setback was not intentional but came as direct result of the floundering performance of the security forces; they were unprepared to deal with the demonstrations. Everyone, including the King expressed their regret over the great number of casualties. I hope that the investigation committee established by the King should be transparent, honest and aware of the importance of the issue in regaining the unity and the trust between the regime and the society.

As a human rights activist, I try to separate between human rights and politics despite the difficulty. There are various ways to solve the political problems, but when it comes to human rights, it should be viewed as a red line. I hope that what took place is the last loss. Sooner or later, the human rights situation should be reassessed, and human rights institutions should be encouraged to perform their role. We should preserve and continue to promote human rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom to establish civil and political societies, council and parliamentary elections, social benefits, financial and administrative auditing.

Despite the setback, I expect a political reshuffle to take place so that political reforms and human rights develop more than ever. This will make it hard for human rights violations to re- occur.